I'm currently binging the podcast "To Live and Die in LA." It's the telling of a real-time investigation into the disappearance of Adea Shabani, a Hollywood model from her LA apartment in March 2018. Journalist Neil Strauss guides us through his investigation as he works with Adea's family and the private investigator they hired to find their daughter.
It is thrilling and captivating. And it's a cultural phenomenon. As of May 1, it's been downloaded 15 million times. Give it a listen.
One of the chilling things the podcast reveals is just how much privacy we have lost in the digital age. There is a great saying, "If you're not paying for the product, you are the product." It long predates the internet and social media, but it fits perfectly.
Our phone and the (mostly free) apps we have come to rely on have turned each of us - and our lives - into profitable commodities. Our every move - virtual and actual - is tracked and monetized. Strauss lays that bare. With his investigator partner, Jayden Brant, he reveals a world where private investigators can access services that track our every move in real time. Cell phones are a loud beacon signaling our precise location.
But most shocking is this revelation. I'll let Neil Strauss set it up:
"I'm reluctant to share this piece of information because it was so essential to this case that I don't want the knowledge widespread. But go to takeout.google.com on your computer. There you'll see a list of everything at Google is storing about you. Your emails. Your contacts. Your web searches. Your browsing history. Your device information. And most chillingly of all, your location history. Click a button and you can get it all sent to you in one easy set of zip files.
Unless you have personally gone into your account and modified these specific options, all this activity and more is being tracked and stored about you. Any embarrassing video you have ever watched. Any late night rendezvous you have ever had. Any website you have visited that you don't want anyone else knowing about, even from the days you cleared your browsing history.
It doesn't matter if you did it in the real world or online. If you had your phone with you, nothing is secret."
Check it out. It's an astonishing - and somewhat disconcerting - look back into your past. You can go into the settings and elect to turn off the tracking, which Google generously calls personalization options. Doing so triggers some warnings that my Google experience might not be as robust as otherwise. I'll let you know if I miss anything!